Saturday, 23 June 2012: Paris to Tallahassee: Roissypole demystified

Written 23 July 2012

Charles De Gaulle, one of Paris's two airports, is actually in the town of Roissy, a few miles north-northwest of the city, and one of the items you always see on road signs as you approach it, among all the "Terminal 2 this ways" and "Rental car returns that ways" and "Longterm parking is already behind you," is directions to Roissypôle, a name that has always puzzled me. It could mean, e.g., the very center of all things Roissy (i.e., "pole" could be used in the sense of north and south poles, poles apart, or opposite poles), or it could mean "Roissypolis" (as in metropolis or technopolis). As we learned this time, because our hotel was in it, it is the latter.

Our huge Ibis, the adjacent Novotel, the Hilton, and a four-building office complex are all grouped around a central transportation plaza from which you can catch a bus to any number of other nearby hotels, an RER B train to Paris, or—it turns out—the newly renovated and very convenient four-stop subway (called CDGVAL) that serves all the airport terminals and the two halves of Roissypôle, which are separated by a taxiway for airplanes (the Pullman hotel is over in the other half). From CDG Terminal 2, where our flights were to leave from, you can catch TGVs to many cities in France.

So that's what Roissypôle is, the public-transport hub of the airport area. Terminal 1 is a short walk from Roissypôle our hotel, and CDGVAL will take you to Terminals 2 and 3 and the other half of Roissypôle. The RER B, one of four suburban commuter-rail lines that, within the boundaries of Paris, function as part of the Metro runs right to the center of the city. This is how airport transportation should work.

After breakfast on Saturday morning (and after actually throwing away those two hopeless out-of-date Michelin Guides), as promised, we were able to roll our luggage out the hotel door, a few yards across the courtyard and through the transportation center to the escalator down to CDGVAL, which whisked us in moments to Terminal 2. Of course, that terminal itself is pretty darn big, so we had rather a hike to Terminal 2E and then another to the proper set of check-in desks for our flights (at CDG, you must check in at the desk assigned to your flight, not just any old desk run by your airline), but it was well laid out for wheeled luggage—hard, flat, shiny floors; no stairs; moving walkways here and there. As it happens, CJ was flying Air France, and Air France actually manages airport operations for Delta in Paris, so we were able to go through the whole check-in and security process together and shop together in Duty Free (CJ was filling the last of her gift list and wanted David's advice on wines), and we saw CJ off at her gate just in time to stroll to our own for the beginning of boarding. (She made all her connections at the U.S. end—she was flying to Dulles but was scheduled to attend a rehearsal dinner Saturday night and be a bridesmaid in the wedding on Sunday, in New Jersey somewhere! She made it with time to spare.)

We were rather annoyed, when we boarded our flight, to find that our seat selection had been changed and that we had the least desirable position—the middle two seats of the four-abreast center section. As it turned out, though, the flight passed quite quickly—Air France equipment is always so much better than Delta's. We had adjustable, individual video screens and hand-held game controllers. Each seat even had a USB socket! The selection of movies and TV shows was very wide (I watched The Artist and Mission Impossible 4), and the "info about your flight" section included a really cool feature—a live "landscape camera"! During take-off and landing, it pointed forward, for a pilot's-eye view of the runway, but as soon as we were up a couple of hundred feet, it switched to pointing straight down, so we could watch the terrain we were flying over in real time!

In addition, mirabile dictu, the food was good. We both had chicken with pesto sauce and creamy polenta; that's the second Paris-to-Atlanta airline dinner in a row that I'll actually try to duplicate at home. Interestingly, because we say on opposite sides of the midline of the fuselage, we were served by different people, and strangely, although David's stewardess was the usual eternally smiling and helpful type, my steward was almost surly. When, in response to his question, I asked for still water, he said he was out, and when I refused sparkling water, he just skipped me and went on! Meanwhile, David's stewardess, who also ran out of still water at about our row, immediately walked the 10 steps back to the galley to fetch another bottle. I finally had to flag down another stewardess to ask for water. Later, when he distributed the late-in-the-flight snack, he skipped our row when handing out bread. When I flagged him down and asked for some, he held out the tray and said "Go on, take two or three while you're at it"!

Surprisingly, our connection in Atlanta went fine (we usually get stuck there overnight), and passport control and customs went more smoothly in the new Concourse F than they used to in E. Still, you still have the feeling that the designers should at least have looked at passport control in some other country before designing the layout. Nothing was labeled in anything but English, and we still encountered one point where airport employees had to stand for hours, endlessly repeating (in English only, and often in an impenetrable southern accent) "non-US passports to the left, please; non-US passports this way, to the left please" because you couldn't see the signs until too late. Why they don't just post some signs facing the right way is beyond me.

So here we are, safe and sound back in Tallahassee, but clearly we used up all our good karma during the trip. After all that cool, cloudy drizzle in Europe, we came home to, you guessed it, Tropical Storm Debby, which continued to drizzle (and outright rain) on us for days after our return (no golf for the jet lag this year). We found the power on (although all the clocks were blinking) but for some reason, the phones were dead. Okay, we'll deal with that later. Sunday morning, when I set out to go grocery shopping, I found that one of the cars was dead—not even trying-to-start noises. Okay, we'll deal with that later, too; I went shopping in the other car. Then shortly after lunch, the power went out. A couple of hours later, we noticed that half of a large tree had broken off and fallen across the power lines in our yard (probably the cause of the outage. A neighbor called it in (our phones were still dead, and the cell phone gets no bars in our neighborhood), but the linemen were hopelessly busy so nothing much happened for a while. Tallahassee got about 9 inches of rain from the storm, but the next county south got 20 inches—people had three feet of water in their houses. The power came back about 2 a.m. on Monday morning, and come the dawn we found that the city crew who came to fix it had—in the middle of the night, in the pouring rain—taken the time and trouble to move a large, unwieldy planter out of the way so that the broken branch wouldn't fall on it when they cut it loose, and they also managed to keep it from landing on our small kumquat tree, right in its path. Gotta write them a nice letter about that . . .

On Monday, as I fixed dinner, the kitchen faucet went "thunk" and began leaking in all directions from every joint. It was just that kind of week. On Thursday morning, after picking the now revived car up from the garage, I left for work only to have a tire go flat on the way. I flagged David down (he was a few minutes behind me), and he changed it, but when he took it in later to be repaired, they couldn't find a leak. Anyway, by about 10 days after the trip, everything was finally recombobulated. David fixed the leaky faucet, the car runs fine, the phones work again, I've reset all the clocks, and only a few large lumps of the fallen branch still litter the yard (a neighbor wants them for firewood but hasn't fired up his chainsaw yet). Time to start planning the next trip!

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